September 12, 2016

Opinion: Let’s try some year-round schools

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Students wait to board school buses.

Students wait to board school buses. (By Len Lazarick)

By Michael Collins


With Comptroller Peter Franchot at his side, Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order to mandate that schools start after Labor Day starting in 2017.  On cue, Democratic leaders and teachers unions assailed the idea.  They prefer the status quo.

Rather than tinker around the edges, both Gov. Hogan and Democratic leaders should follow Virginia’s lead and try year-round schools.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently awarded $7.7 million to 66 schools as part of Virginia’s Extended School Year Grant Program.  According to WUSA News, the Virginia legislature created the program after a legislative commission found that students in struggling schools do better with longer school years.

The public school year in Maryland is 180 days long.  But as parents and educators know, students get far fewer days of instruction.  After a long summer break, there is statistically significant learning loss that must be countered.  The first three weeks of school often is review, and just snapping kids from summer mode to learning mode.

Similarly, the last weeks after final exams and standardized testing are often lost to administrative work.  When one factors in teacher in-service days, half days, and testing days, students get far fewer than 180 days of instruction.  For example, of 43 weeks in Anne Arundel County’s school calendar, only about a third of those is a full week of instruction.

The burdens of child care

The growing number of single-parent households and households with two working parents struggle with child care throughout the school year, and a long summer break has a disproportionate impact on lower income families.

Research shows that children in affluent families fare better than their disadvantaged peers because their families can afford enriching summer experiences.  By contrast, disadvantaged youths are more at risk.  Long-term daycare and summer camps can break the budget of working families.

To mitigate the strain, federal, state, and local governments spend enormous sums of money for summer programs for disadvantaged children. In addition to summer jobs and recreation programs, Maryland counties and Baltimore City keep schools open in the summer in order to provide a safe place for poor children to get breakfast and lunch daily.

The large cost of the combined summer safety net programs can help offset costs for year-round school.  As important, year-round classes offer the opportunity to bring back courses lost to the push from STEM training and testing.  For example, music, art, industrial arts, and civics could all return to core education with an expanded school year.

Pros and cons of year-round school

Of course, there are pros and cons to year-round school.  According to the National Education Association’s website those include:


  • Students tend to forget a lot during the summer break, so a shorter time away from school might increase retention rates.
  • It’s a more efficient use of school space because otherwise buildings are unoccupied during the summer.
  • Remediation can occur when it is most needed – during the school year.


  • Band and other extracurricular programs suffer from problems with scheduling out-of-school practices and competitions.
  • If an entire district does not adopt a year-round calendar, parents could have students at different schools at different schedules.
  • Studies have been inconclusive to its academic benefits.

How would year-round school work?  According to, a few examples of year-round schooling schedules using a 180-day calendar include:

  • 45-15 plan (45 days on/15 days off)
  • 60-20 plan (60 days on/20 days off)
  • 90-30 plan (90 days on/30 days off)

Why not consider a plan that expands to 200 days to get in more instruction?  Primarily because teachers will need more pay for more work.

According to OECD statistics, the average American worked 1,790 hours in 2015. Assuming an eight-hour day, that works out to 224 days for an average annual salary of $58,714.

By contrast, the average Maryland teacher works 180-190 days per year, earns $57,000 per year and has better health and retirement plans than the average worker.  Of course, Maryland has a higher cost of living than much of America and teachers often take on summer jobs.

Teachers want to be seen as professionals and paid more.  The fact that they work two months less than the average worker, however, makes that a hard sell to folks who work two months longer per year, and struggle with child care bills during school breaks.

A year-round school calendar with 200 days of instruction gives legitimacy to the claim for higher salaries for teachers, smoothens day-care issues for parents, reduces the need for expensive summer programs, reduces the achievement gap and summer learning loss.

Rather than quibbling over moving school start date one way or another, leaders in Annapolis should think big, and ditch the 19th century agrarian model of education.

Here are sources:

Baltimore Summer Lunch

Hours worked by country


Achievement Gap


Michael Collins can be reached

  • MD_Trump_Fan

    The author makes some very good points, but it doesn’t go far enough. To fully solve the issues raised, schools need to take students 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, alleviating parents of the inconvenience and cost of raising children. Yes, it will cost taxpayers dearly, but the absence of childcare costs will be worth it. Not only that, once our children are raised entirely by the government, it will eliminate the privilege some children receive from being raised in a stable two parent household.

  • The assertion by this author that “Research shows that children in affluent families fare better than their disadvantaged peers because their families can afford enriching summer experiences” cannot be supported. “Research” shows no such thing, although it does show a correlation between a family’s wealth and the degree of summer slide. The author’s use of the word “because” reflects a superficial understanding of the research cited and should be avoided in the media.

    Furthermore, the gist of this op-ed fails to consider the biggest reason for summer vacation: It balances the raising of children between parents, schools (government), and our greater communities, including businesses, churches etc., nonprofits that provide summer enrichment experiences, and so on. Raising children takes a village, and those opportunities must be made equally available to people of all socioeconomic statuses. How to do that is the question we should ask. The school calendar is such a small contributor to a child’s learning that I suspect tinkering with year-round schooling will have little effect, although it might move us past those three weeks of review at the start of each new school year.

  • Lisa Moore

    If this Michael Collins is the same Michael Collins that was a High School civics teacher in an un air conditioned, ancient school back in the late 70’s to early 80’s, then you should be ashamed of what you wrote about year round school and especially teacher salaries. Shame on you! Your voice would better be used in speaking out against SLO’s and the time that takes away from teachers in the classroom, the useless and expensive standardized testing that takes away from classroom instruction, the poor common core curriculum that is nothing but test prep for the useless standardized test and the competency based era of education (students sitting in front of computer screens all day) that is being thrust upon our youth by big companies making a profit from education tax dollars.

    Year round schooling has it’s merits in warmer, more temperate climates. We have winter (sometimes!) in the state of MD. Our school systems use up snow days almost every year. How would that fit into the year round schooling? What happens when the kids have a week of snow days during their weeks of school? When and how would those days be made up? What about the unhealthy, un air conditioned schools that students and teachers would be sitting in during the “dog days” of summer? These same parents will still have to find services for their children during the scattered weeks off and snow days. 180 days is 180 days and it is easier for ALL parents to plan for set times off from school.

    I can’t even believe that you would stoop so low as to bash teachers (and NO, I am not a teacher). Most teachers have a master’s degree in education. That is as much or more education than an engineer but for far less pay than an engineer. Teachers are entrusted with the lives and well being of our children (who are NOT test scores, by the way!). A teacher’s day doesn’t end when the school bell rings, it starts well before the students arrive in classrooms, weekends are spent preparing for the next week and catching up from the previous week. You propose to add more days to their year to make them look more “professional”? If you look at all the hours that teachers spend working from home, before and after school, you would see that they work far harder and for less money than most “professionals”. What you should be extolling is making their job easier by allowing them to actually “teach” their students instead of having to spend time on mandated and useless paperwork thrust upon them by the state. They should be allowed to do the job that they were trained to do, and that is to teach children a rich and fulfilling curriculum free of test prep.

    Shame on you Mr. Collins!…especially if you are the man that used to be a wonderful and respected teacher in an old and ancient brick school building in the middle of Essex.

    • Vidi

      I don’t believe Mr. Collins was bashing teachers; he was just stating facts. Teachers do indeed work 10 months a year. Very few other “professionals” have that advantage. Many teachers do indeed have master’s degrees; so do other professionals and they work 12 months a year. Teachers in Montgomery County are paid an average of $75,000 for 10 months and have better health and pension benefits than even the much maligned federal workforce that works 12 months a year. These facts are not meant to bash teachers. We need them for the education of our children. We also need social workers, cops, housing specialists, and all of them work 12 months a year – many of them not at a $75,000 a year average. I just needed to put your last paragraph into context.

      • Lisa Moore

        You would need to see the amount of work that teachers do after the bell rings to get an appreciation of their “10 month” work schedule. Since teachers are salaried, they don’t get paid for the extra hours that they remain at school. Teachers also don’t get paid for the hours that they spend at home in the evenings preparing for the next day. Teachers don’t get paid for their work time on the weekends grading papers, reading essays and correcting tests. I think when you add all the extra time up, you would see that they work a 12 month school year plus overtime which they never get paid for. I think most people in the workforce shut down their computers and walk out the door for the evening to spend uninterrupted time with family, which is not the case for teachers. In my opinion, they aren’t paid enough and the stigma of the 10 month year makes it look as if they are greedy and lazy. This is what those in education reform would have you believe.

        • Dale McNamee

          Yet, teachers in the past did all of these same things, minus the “professional” days, winter or spring breaks ( I never had either in grade or high school ), snow days ( I grew up in PA. and made it to school despite the snow ), also I was expected to keep up with the lessons during Thanksgiving and Christmas to New Year’s Day break…

          My pastor’s wife is a teacher in a private, religious, school and spends her “after school time” doing grading of exams, lesson preparation, etc. just like her public school counterparts because it is expected of her and her fellow teachers…

          If being a teacher is so tough, find other employment…

          • Lisa Moore

            Professional Development days are the result of collective bargaining by the teachers unions. When the counties and/or states refused to give teachers a raise, the unions bargained for student- less days instead. MOST teachers would rather just teach than have the disruption of these days. This Michael Collins would like teachers to work 20 more days a year, but I guess he doesn’t think that they should be paid? Teachers don’t do the job for the money….they do it for the kids.

          • Vidi

            I’m not sure if the extra “professional” days in Montgomery County were a quid pro quo for refusal of salary raises for teachers. Our teachers work hard, are paid well, AND get very good health and pension benefits which are not available in like degree to the rest of Montgomery County government workers – all of whom work 12 months a year. Also, a little known fact – our teachers get a supplement of 2% to their pensions. Again this is not available to MoCo government workers. I’d expect you would find the “professional” workers in MoCo don’t get “professional” days and work more than 8 hours a day without compensation. That’s what cell phones and Ipads have brought about – expectation by employers that workers are available to receive/send messages almost 24/7. If, in fact, teachers would rather not get “professional” days, they need to share that with their union so that our children can get educated instead of having to stay home on those days. As you might gather, I am not an apologist for teachers but just a taxpayer in Montgomery County.

          • Dale McNamee

            Then, the teachers who would rather teach for those 20 “professional days” should speak up, and oppose having those days imposed upon them and ask that the teacher’s union be decertified as unionized schools are turning out such “poor products”…

            If teachers were truly “teaching for the kids”, they would have not bargained for those days…

          • Lisa Moore

            Oh, Dale… you drank the kool aid. When you refer to children as “products” it shows that you have aligned yourself with the corporate education reformers, none of which even have experience in a classroom. Teachers would much rather teach your children a rich and diverse curriculum instead of what the county and state mandate that children be force fed (Common Core math and ELA) in order to get a good score on the Big Standardized Test that shows NOTHING except that wealthy students do better than students living in poverty. Teachers are trained professionals and should be allowed to do their job. For years they have been abused, underpaid and used as a scapegoat. Their union bargained for days since they were denied decent pay and cost of living increases with more mandates thrust upon them by the state. I’m sorry that’s how it is….for teachers and for students.

          • Dale McNamee

            I termed the “children”as “products” because they are such from the so-called “school systems”…

            If you are a teacher, you are judged on how well your students know and understand the subject that you taught… Thus, they are “products” in that sense…

            Homeschoolers by and large produce ( there’s that word again ) better students who are mature, focused, and ready for the intellectual rigors of college…

            Private school students are the same way…

            Also, what’s wrong with making sure that students get taught what will make them succeed in the working world ?

            I’ve read articles about businesses who are having a very hard time finding people who are ready to work, having the right skills, etc.

            How does having “a rich and diverse experience” provide what is necessary to do a job ?

            When I went to grade school, it was a Catholic school that taught all subjects in Latin. I did well and was fairly fluent in it… And by the 8th. grade, I was ready for high school and high school was very serious regarding producing students that were ready to : go to college straight from high school, enter the military and then attend college or tech school, attend tech school, or start working “Day 1″…

            I worked at a steel mill 40 hours a week and was a full time student… I thank my “non-diverse” education that gave me the ability to do so…

            So, what’s wrong with that ?

            BTW, I enriched myself by reading, attending lectures, concerts, visiting museums, etc. on my own…

            My “non-diverse, unenriched” education allowed me to do that too…

            Please stop shilling for the teachers, Lisa…

            And I do agree that Common Core should be done away with…

            Schools should return to what worked in the past and stop being faddish…

    • Dale McNamee

      How about eliminating the “professional development days”, winter and or spring breaks, and making sure that students keep up with their studies on”snow days”, holidays, etc. ?

      Also, parents are the most responsible for their children being ready for school and providing meals, etc.

      Not the “village” !